The 7 Habits of Highly Chilled Small Business owners
This is the fifth article in a monthly series on small business owners I have met or worked with over the years who developed beautiful successful businesses.
Stories of successful real business owners
In 35 years of doing business and working with some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met, I’ve learned a very important lesson: Success in small business starts by building great habits. I call these practices the “7 Highly Chilled Habits” and I find they’re best illustrated with the stories of real business owners who I happen to have had the pleasure of coaching.
The articles are based on my E-book, The 7 Habits of Highly Chilled Small Business Owners. All of my books and other resources are available for free here
Highly Chilled Business Owners Find the Best Person for the Role
In order to build a Highly Chilled business, you have to put great people on your team, give them every opportunity to shine and remove the ones that don’t fit.
Small business owners often lament the fact they can’t afford to hire great people because big corporates have so much deeper pockets. They also often complain that managing people (especially millennials!) is a nightmare because they think the world owes them a reward for turning up and as soon as you’ve finished training them, they leave again.
It’s true that finding, hiring, engaging and keeping good people is the hardest thing you’ll ever do in your business.
But it’s meant to be hard because employing people is also your greatest opportunity to build a Highly Chilled business that makes money. And generally, in business (as in much of life, I suppose), the hardest things are where the greatest opportunities lie.
Be Careful, Like Adrian
I know lots of business owners who have struggled with employees their whole life. I’ve also met a bunch of them who get it right. Adrian is one of those people.
Adrian owns a Highly Chilled retail design, development and store fit-out business in Sydney. This is his website. Things have been going incredibly well for Adrian since he started his business in 2010. He employs around 30 people and half of them are young millennials. They come and go, get paid the industry average and have their good and bad days. But they deliver. The culture of the place is buzzing, and they make lots of money for Adrian and his business.
Adrian’s secrets are simple:
Hire the best people, not just the ones you can afford.
Hire for cultural fit AND skills/experience.
Set high expectations.
Give everyone lots of encouragement and genuine personal attention.
Get rid of them early if they don’t work out.
A couple of years ago, Adrian’s business had grown to the point where he needed a general manager. The temptation was to promote someone internally to the role. That would have been the easy, economical solution.
However, he was aware of the Peter Principle that says: “People always get promoted to one level above their ability.”
And Adrian needed someone with experience in fast-growing national and international business.
The answer was clear. The person in the business he’d considered for the role didn’t have GM experience and although a great team member, promoting this person was not what the business needed. Adrian actually knew exactly the person he wanted to have on board, a good friend, but she had a high paying job at one of the biggest corporates in Sydney (with all the perks and trappings of corporate success). What could he offer to entice her away?
She Jumped at the Opportunity
Long story short, Adrian took his friend to lunch, took the plunge and matched her corporate pay. He also offered her other financial benefits and options in the business down the track. The friend jumped at the opportunity, and they’ve been working together for 3 years with great success.
Your business is only as strong as your people. Hiring someone based on whether you can afford them, or because they happen to be there already, is a recipe for stagnation.
Adrian’s is a Highly Chilled business and Adrian is a Highly Chilled small business owner.
Your Homework (The Chilled Kind)
Here’s a short exercise you could carry out to start the process of making this habit your own.
Practice Highly Chilled habit #6:
You may not currently need to hire someone, but the next time you do need to find a new employee, resist the automatic temptation to consider promoting someone you already have on the team. First, take some time to visualise the person you’d ideally like for the role.
Are you a small business owner who’s feeling the heat? Explore Highly Chilled habit #7 as soon as it is live on my blog here
And the hard hitting truths about business management
Would you like to move out of overwhelm and start building a Fun Business that sustains you for years to come? The truth is that once you’ve laid the foundations (using the Hedgehog Principles), it’s all about learning to manage your Fun Business properly.
I won’t lie, you will need to focus on a few fundamentally dull things, small business management in other words, like goal setting, team management, planning, systems and measuring. However, I have a few shortcuts and strategies up my sleeve that make the process markedly more exciting…
A Fun Business Has Flexible Goals
Everyone knows that goal setting is a good idea. It engages your team. It improves your decision-making. It helps your business deliver on its promise. What’s more, I don’t believe your business will ever become Fun if you don’t practice goal setting effectively. To manage your business well, to build a great Fun Business, you simply can’t avoid Goal setting.
Still, goal setting is surprisingly difficult to do well. It’s hard to get people onboard. It’s even tougher to keep everyone accountable. Our world is also changing every day, so goals must be continuously adjusted to suit new realities.
SMART is a well-established tool for creating impactful goals:
I like the idea, but I believe that adding three more letters to the acronym makes it exponentially more powerful:
S tretch (you can just see yourself reaching for it)
I nspiring (for you)
P ersonal (about your personal achievements and growth. Read: not about achieving a particular profit level or buying a Porsche because unfortunately, those material things won’t motivate your subconscious brain!).
I always invite my clients to decide on a large, visionary goal for the future (Jim Collins refers to this as the BHAG or “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” in his book, Built to Last) that meets the SMARTSIP criteria and then break it down into a medium-term goal and a goal for the year.
A Fun Business Engages Everyone
Lots of businesses proclaim that their people are their greatest asset (and to be honest, whenever I read that statement on someone’s website, I run a mile), but most of them generally belie their beliefs with their actions.
Most companies prefer not to think about the fact that a business IS its people, and your business only gets to make money if your people let you. Business Management is about people first and foremost.
If your employees are only interested in their paycheck, you will always struggle to make a dollar and business will feel anything but FUN. On the flip side, if your whole team is enthusiastically pulling in the same direction then your business will move mountains.
So, how can you achieve said nirvana?
Hire the brightest: Find people whose attitude, energy, enthusiasm and resourcefulness matches your culture and team dynamics.
Move beyond money: Listen to people, recognise their achievements and give them the right tools to do a meaningful job well.
Get the team involved: Bring your people into all the processes, planning meetings and rhythms of the business.
Remember that employees are people too: Don’t just dictate – get people involved in developing their own goals.
Play the game of business: Get your people to start thinking like team members who are playing a game that they all enjoy and want to win.
A Fun Business Has a “Living” Business Plan That Drives It Forward
Human beings don’t accomplish anything without a plan. In fact, some say it is our ability to plan that sets us apart from other animals. However, most small businesses do not have a formal business plan, and if they do, it generally lives in a dusty bottom drawer.
Having a written plan (AKA one that exists outside of your head) allows other people to engage with it and understand where the business is going. It allows you and others to check progress, brainstorm, make good decisions and maintain focus on the important stuff.
Most business owners know this. I’m sure you do too.
The sticking point comes from a simple misunderstanding. It comes from believing you are expected to develop an externally focused plan in the format we are taught by accountants, consultants and government bodies (read: not designed to be useful for you, the owner) when an internal business plan is what you need.
An internal business plan is a shareable and succinct “living” document. It is created collaboratively and revised frequently. It is designed to support decision-making and internal communication about the direction of the business.
Trust me, once you let go of your idea of what a business plan “should’” look like and just get around a table with a flip chart and a group of your people, you’ll find that business planning is not actually daunting at all, but instead really powerful and Fun.
A Fun Business Has Rhythm and Regularity
Entrepreneurs are the busiest and most guilt-ridden people on the planet. They work long days, dream about their businesses at night and repeatedly scorn themselves for not living up to some impossible standards laid out by a critical inner voice [HYPERLINK TO BLOG POST 1].
As a result, most business owners operate as crisis managers. This situation has many undesirable consequences: dropped balls, neglected business development, burnout, missed family time, stomach ulcers, or all of the above. An atmosphere of stress and last-minute problem-solving also starts to develop company-wide, leading to low morale and high employee turnover. You get stuck in a loop where you don’t have time to foster predictability, develop systems or train people to handle the crises themselves and because of this, there will always be another crisis.
The way through this dilemma? Building rhythm and regularity into your business.
One of the best first steps you can take is to start a weekly operations meeting where everyone reviews the previous week and plans for the next one (a better one). Want to make it effective? Start and finish on time. Follow an agreed agenda. Ensure everyone is present. Don’t allow distractions. Focus on solutions.
Next, you might decide to look at the systems in the business because systemisation is an important contributor to a sense of calm predictability. This could be as simple as creating a script and a standard form/checklist for inbound office calls.
Remember, people want to feel safe, and safety starts with knowing what the future holds.
A Fun Business Measures the Fun
Beyond the most obvious measurements, every business has different priorities. However, there is one key measurement that all business owners should consider starting with: Fun.
Fun is the only success factor that cuts across and influences every aspect of business.
One of the reasons Fun doesn’t usually get measured is that most people believe you can’t because it is intangible. But you can measure intangibles such as Fun. Quite easily and accurately as a matter of fact.
Let’s say you asked your team every Friday afternoon to give an anonymous rating on your Fun in Business scale from 0 to 10, with 10 being the most fun you’ve ever had in business and 0 being the opposite. Next you collate and average those numbers and come up with a single “Fun number” for the week in business.
You could then have a staff meeting every Monday morning and share last week’s Fun number, asking the team what you could all do to get the number just a couple of points higher in the coming week.
The first few times you do this, your team will make silly suggestions about doubling their wages and paintball outings because it is all such a novel idea. However, I guarantee that soon enough it will become obvious to everyone exactly what real business Fun is all about and you will start having practical, productive conversations that make exciting things happen.
Your Homework (The Fun Kind)
Here’s a couple of steps you might take in the coming week(s) in respect of each of the management truths:
For Goal setting:
Thinking about the SMARTSIP structure I describe above, pick a date, ideally no more than a year from now and no less than 6 months away ad create a Goal (or set of Goals) for you and your business that inspires you and is both a stretch, yet achievable,specific and measurable and meaningful to you personally and motivating for your staff
Create a rough draft monthly plan for achievement of your Goal with monthly milestones
For your team:
Get your team involved. Organise a meeting with your team and introduce the Goal and draft plan to them and work with them to firm up the plan
Assign specific tasks from the plan to team members or groups of team members
Agree on monthly meetings with your team to update the plan, and agree on next months actions and responsibilities
For your business plan:
Incorporate your Goal in a longer term plan. Where do you want your business to be in 5 years, what is it going to look like, what is its focus, how big is it, what new developments have taken place.
On your own or with your team (or part of your team) create a SWOT and create actionable targets to address the top 3 items from each of the sections (see more about SWOT here and also here )
Start by blocking out a small amount of time each week for yourself (as little as an hour each week or as much as you can manage), to do nothing but think and plan and develop new ideas. Phone off, can’t be disturbed, go off site to a cafe if you need to make sure you’re not disturbed.
Implement a weekly half hour meeting with your staff to set up the week… Celebrate the wins from last week and plan to have more wins this week. Make sure it’s quick, efficient and doesn’t talk about why certain things went wrong last week, simply acknowledge the things that went wrong and focus on making sure things go right this week instead.
For measuring the Fun:
In your weekly and monthly meetings, start by asking everyone for one small tiny little thing they can do themselves to mak the week ahead more Fun
In your weekly and monthly meetings ask the staff for one thing you can do to make business more fun for everyone in the week ahead
Not all KPI’s are created the same… Some are more equal than others
Mastermind about numbers and measurement with Rick Polito from AXSAPT
The podcast of the Small Business Masterminds Foundation Webinar on Numbers and measurement in May 2105. I am joined by Rick Polito from AXSAPT in Sydney www.axsapt.com.au to help us get to the bottom of how we can go about growing our business with control… how we can gaze into the future with our fingers fiormly on the pulse of the health of our business weekly.
I have spent the last few weeks getting very excited about World Cup soccer, and whether or not you like soccer or you get more excited about other footbal games with pointy balls… one thing is clear some teams sparkle (Germany for example) and some teams don’t (who can forget the crying distressed faces of the Brazillian supporters at the end of the semi finals?)
Thinking about staff and employees I often flash on what a friend of mine who is a nurse used to say (half-jokingly): “I could run such a great hospital if it wasn’t for all those ruddy patients.”
But the business owner’s lament is a different one: I know I could run such a great business if it wasn’t for those pesky staff
Michael Gerber, in his famous book: The E-Myth told us 25 years ago to give up trying to manage people, and focus on systems instead.
And in his time, Michael Gerber hadn’t even met a Gen-X employee yet, let alone Gen-Y! Ask your Gen-Y staff member to do something simple like smile at a customer and make them feel welcome when they walk into the shop and they look at you as if you just asked them to kiss a cockroach.
We all know that employing people is tough and it can be the toughest challenge any business owner faces when trying to develop and grow his or her business. And yet, it is also where the greatest opportunity lies for your business, because the essence of just about any business model ever invented is about charging a margin on labour, employees of some form in other words. And that statement holds true equally for either product or service business and even fully digital businesses will find it hard to be successful without employees of some sort.
So how do you engage those pesky staff members, so that you get the best out of them, and you don’t go grey prematurely?
I believe it all starts with this Golden Rule:
Hire for attitude and train for skill.
When you recruit for new employees I urge you to keep this Rule in the forefront of your mind – Always look for attitude first.
The founder of Visa International, Dee Hock shared this about hiring staff: “Hire first on the basis of Integrity; second on the basis of motivation; third, capacity; fourth understanding; fifth, knowledge and last and least, experience.”
Integrity and motivation are what makes a great team member. Most other skills can be taught.
Prepare Prepare Prepare
So how do you hire for attitude?
1) Prepare, prepare, prepare… Put together a simple series of questions that give you the opportunity to get a clear insight into this person, what they’re really like.
2) Organise trial days.
3) Experiment with role plays,
4) Involve your manager in the hiring process
5) Check references.
This is what happens when you don’t check references:
A client of mine, Wendy, runs an upmarket beauty salon in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. 6 months ago she fired one of her staff for unfailing laziness. Recently, Wendy received a phone call from the owner of another beauty salon in Sydney who had employed the previously ‘fired’ employee for some months, on the strength of the fact that she had worked for Wendy before. She rang Wendy, confused and disappointed, because of the bad attitude and performance of her new employee.
A simple reference check, before hiring a new employee can save you a whole heap of aggravation.
The second step in engaging your people is a little less obvious.
You see, your staff aren’t actually all that different to you, they are actually normal people, just like you, honest they are, trust me.
And people like to be engaged, they like to enjoy life, they like to collaborate with other people and they like to win.
It’s the reason so many of us play team sports. In my experience of working with many small business owners, the most effective approach to engage a bunch of employees in small business is to think of business as if it is a game of rugby.
Fun and winning
The reason we join a soccer team is to have fun and enjoy ourselves and the object of the game is to win.
I encourage all of my clients to start to think of their business as a soccer team (But maybe not the Brazilian world cup team at the moment!!) and their staff as fellow team members, with yourself as the captain and coach of the team.
As the captain you understand that your staff joined your team for exactly the same reasons you created it, to have fun and enjoy themselves and to win the game (That is as long as you hire for attitude). Furthermore you must help them understand how the whole team depends on each other.
As the coach you know that you must take the time to teach your team members the rules of the game, you have to train them to become more effective in their roles, and you have to show them how their actions have a direct impact on the outcome of the game.
Finally the team members need to feel they have a ‘stake in the outcome’; they have to feel that winning is good for them as individuals as much as it is for the team as a whole.
Don’t get me wrong, implementing what I just described isn’t easy, and no doubt there will be plenty of times when you will want to pull your hair out (there’s a good reason I don’t have any hair left). But by making it your prime responsibility as the business owner to become a great coach and captain of your team, you will be well on your way to building a Fun business that sustains you for years to come … I promise you.
In part 1 of this series of articles I wrote about how 3 letters, FUN, are the most important thing to focus on in your business.
In part 2 of this series I wrote about the 4 steps to take to create REAL FUN in your businessIn part 3 of this series I wrote how we can go about measuring how much Fun we are having on a day to day, week to week and month to month basis and how to apply that knowledge to the way we run our business and where we focus next.
So in part 4, I will summarise the whole idea for you and sketch out some real word examples of the concept and how to apply it.
Overwhelmed and stressed…
As I’ve said, most small business owners are overwhelmed and stressed; there are so many different priorities vying for their attention every day that they simply don’t know where to focus next. It is simply too much… everything is important and then there are the crises.
So what we tend to focus on instead are two things:
The crises… the everyday brush fires. The crises have to be dealt with or else… so we don’t have to think about that.
What we are best at, our actual skill…the thing we started the business for…carpentry, architecture, graphic design, IT development or whatever… we revert back to “swinging the hammer” in other words, because at least we know how to do that properly.
The stuff that falls by the wayside is the Stuff that Steven Covey in his book “The seven habits of highly effective people” refers to as “Quadrant 2” work… the work that is important but not actually really urgent… it can always be postponed for another day or another week.
The work of the business owner…
The problem is that exactly this work is what I call “The work of the business owner” as opposed to the work of the business, and hence the business stagnates and you as the owner of the business start to feel stressed, frustrated and overwhelmed even more.
So how about if there was one measurement that could tell you what the most important thing to do was in the coming week to move out of that stagnation and overwhelm.
And that is the concept of “Fun in Business”
Because when a business is Fun, it means that everything is working.
If your business is FUN, it means you are making money and staff are engaged and customers are Raving Fans, and all of that good stuff.
And most importantly, it is actually possible to measure Fun in business as a relative measurement and when you do so consistently and systematically; it can help you decide where to focus your time and energy next. Then what happens is that you will start to move out of overwhelm and stagnation and start to build your business that works for you again, instead of the other way around.
So if you ask yourself and your staff: “How much fun did we have last week on a scale from 0 to 10, where 10 is that we just couldn’t wipe the grin of our faces and 0 means the opposite?” you can find an answer. Let’s say that the answer is 6.5, for last week; you can then ask yourself (or your team): “What do we need to do to make next week a 6.6 on that same scale?” This last question can often lead to surprising and very narrowly focused answers…
Answers I have seen to this question have been as prosaic as: “Let’s make sure we collect some more of the outstanding invoices this coming week” or: “If we could all come in an hour earlier this week, then we can get this project out the door and that is just going to be such a relief for all of us”.
I wrote about my client Richard and his design business in part 3 of this series, and how he implemented the Fun scale in his team management.
John and his casual staff…
Another client of mine, John, has a small chain of cafés in the inner city of Sydney. John also incorporated the Fun in Business scale in the way he manages his businesses.
A problem John has is the transient and casual nature of a lot of his staff. Managing the business is therefore a headache, as he never knows how long his staff will stay and how committed they will be.
But John has taken the fun concept even further in an effort to engage his staff. It is difficult for John to get all his staff together on the same day at a staff meeting, people might only work on aMonday and never meet half his other staff. So John has introduced a digital system that integrates with his time sheets.
Each staff member has to sign into his staff management computer system when they arrive for their shift and at the end of their shift they have to sign out in the same system but at the last shift of the week the staff member also has to answer a couple of questions in the form of a survey.
It’s all about the questions…
The questions are:
Question 1: “On a scale from 0 to 10 where 10 is that you have had the most fun you could imagine having at work this week, and 0 is the opposite, what score would you give this week?
Question 2: “What rating on that scale would you like next week to be?”
Question 3: “What can we, your manager, and the business as a whole, do to help you achieve that number?”
Question 4: “What can you do yourself next week to help you achieve that number?”
These questions were confronting at first for a lot of staff members, but slowly but surely people were starting to see the point, especially when shown that their manager (John in most cases) took their suggestions and requests seriously.
After a few months of consistent application of this Fun in Business system, John’s business truly became unrecognisable and his business started growing again.
And that is why deciding to take a determined focus on having more FUN in business may well be the most significant decision you make in your business.
You have a go now…
Thank you for reading this series of articles… Now it is your turn… I’d love you to start thinking about how to start measuring how much Fun you are having in your business… why don’t you call a staff meeting and discuss it… brainstorm it… see what people think?
You might be surprised how even a few conversations on these topics might start to introduce a little bit more fun for everyone in your business.
A 1001 Business Bedtime stories… Emma had a friend…
Here follows another one of the “1001 Business Bedtime Stories” … Every story comes straight from the New Perspectives Small Business Bootcamp, stories of business and courage . You might recognise some of them from your own experience.
Once upon a time… a long long time ago in a country not unlike Australia… Emma was a business owner…
Emma had an old friend Natasha who had worked for Emma for a long time, ever since she set up her business.
Emma’s business was doing really well, but Natasha had stopped growing along with the business a while ago. The tension in the office was becoming a real problem for Emma and she found herself secretly hoping Natasha would call in sick most days.
“I don’t understand why Natasha hasn’t resigned ages ago, hopefully she will this week” was a thought that went through Emma’s head often.
Working in The Bootcamp, Emma came to realise that “keeping my fingers crossed that Natasha will leave soon” is simply business management and as the owner of the business is was her responsibility to make the tough decision.
So she did, Emma took Natasha to lunch and broached the topic
It took a lot of courage… but now a year later Emma and Natasha are still friends and Emmas business is free to grow again.
Ask yourself… Where will you find the courage to make Profound things happen in your Bushiness?
What if I told you that people don’t work for money!
Research all over the world carried out across many different industry sectors, ages, genders, races and cultures consistently indicates that people are primarily not motivated by how much they get paid.
The most important factors that determine how happy an employee is in her job and how effective and productive she is in it are:
Does she feel she has the opportunity to do what she does best, every day?
Does she feel she is given plenty of opportunity to get even better in her areas of strength?
Does she know what is expected of her at work, every day?
Does her immediate supervisor have regular, structured, meaningful interaction with her that incorporates constructive feedback and acknowledgement?
Other research into management styles and developments in the field of “positive psychology” indicate that people develop certain distinct, innate talents, early in life. These talents become strengths as they grow older and more experienced. Other areas don’t develop as talents and because of that they don’t ever become strengths. No matter how much training and practicing you do in those areas, the best you can ever hope for is that you learn some skills, and learn to “get by”.
Small business owners
Taken together, these are powerful insights for us small business owners. All of us are good at some things, and not so good at others, and worse, we actually hate doing those things. So we employ staff to do those things for us. But how do we find staff that have talent and strength in our own “non-talent” areas, and how do we get them to really excel and stick around for the long haul.
To have a workplace where staff love to work and perform at excellence all the time you need to start at the beginning:
What comes naturally to you, what are your strengths, your talents? Be as specific as you can be. Write it down.
What do you always struggle with? Specific and detailed. Write it down.
Now put all the jobs that are part of your role in two columns, called talent (strengths) and non-talent (non-strengths).
Detail the talents and strengths you need for the jobs in your non-talent column. Again, get as specific as possible, don’t be tempted with HR jargon; “People skills” for example is not a useful descriptor.
Now find someone strong in those talents specifically. (someone who already works for you or when hiring a new employee) Look for indicators of their strengths, not their experience. Passion for something is a good indicator for example, as is willingness to learn. If someone has a talent for something they will learn very quickly. Hire for talent.
Give them the role, and make sure they can use their strengths as much as possible.
Spend time with them to help them develop those strengths further and further.
Don’t waste time training them up in areas of their “non-talents” it will make them feel unmotivated and you frustrated. (obviously there is some room for flexibility in this rule)
In a following article I will talk further about how to make sure that you can get on with your own work confident that your staff are doing theirs, and how to give regular meaningful feedback to your employees.
These are some of the secrets that ensure that an employee will answer with a strong Yes to the 4 questions above. When she does, she will love coming to work and getting stuck into it……and so will you!
This article is based on my own experiences and insights as well as on the following books amongst others:
“First break all the rules” and “Now discover your strengths” The Gallup Organisation and Marcus Buckingham